Painting Foundation Student Heewon Cho believes (in what sounds slightly pessimistic but undeniably true) that the superficiality of social media has inevitably made our generation narcissistic. Added with the shallowness of pop culture, Heewon argues that we are forced to deal with this “unavoidable and almost enforced” side-effect of our modern-day culture. Sharp-witted and critical, Heewon’s atypical route to CSM reflects the breadth of his talents; holding a maths degree from his previous uni studies, Heewon came to CSM with the hope of tapping into his creative skills in an effort to improve his maths skills. Now bound to start working as a financial auditor in London later this year, we talk to Heewon to learn more about his intricate, socially-charged paintings.

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How did the composition of your piece relate to your themes?

I tried to portray the unavoidable and almost enforced narcissism of modern day culture, caused by shallow pop culture and the superficiality of social media. The left hand figure (a proud bust), depicts a conscious avoider of this modern day narcissism, who seems unaffected by this culture yet is naively followed by the mirror, an object which traditionally references self-obsession. The right hand portrait shows a sufferer of this narcissism who is physically boxed in by his many facades. The jewellery box further references vanity and the subdued face emphasises his claustrophobic relationship with the mirror. Placed as a diptych, the left hand figure literally looks down at the right hand figure yet there is some dramatic irony as the viewer, as well as the right hand figure, can notice the mirror behind the left one’s head.

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What artists did you draw inspiration from?

I looked at quite a few artists: from Michaël Borremans’ surrealist paintings, to the atmospheric paintings of Kaye Donachie and the works of Justin Mortimer. I liked getting to reference a few of my personal favourites during the year’s studies.

Why did you decide to focus on the themes of narcissism and vanity?

My work prior to the final project explored beauty and popular conventions surrounding it through portraiture. I enjoyed learning new panting techniques such as blurring and ‘un-painting’ and wanted to experiment with these distortion techniques to portray narcissism.

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You mentioned that you had a maths degree from uni, when did you decide to come to CSM?

I did my A Level in Art but then went on to study maths at university. In my last year of uni, I decided that I wanted to spend one more year painting before working professionally. In the five years since I had done painting, I thought I’d give it a shot and coming to CSM was a bit of shift. I felt the creative skills would help me in my maths career and decided to apply for the foundation course in my last year of university.

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Will you keep painting next year?

Next year I’ll be working in London as a financial auditor, but I hope to move into a live-work studio space to keep up the painting on the side.

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